Taxis' 'Out of Service' signs are not illegal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 July, 1997, 12:00am

I refer to the letter headlined, 'Puzzled by police inaction' (South China Morning Post, July 12).

In his letter, Ted Thomas asserted that for the first two weeks of July, 80 per cent of Hong Kong taxis had been 'driving around' with 'Out of Service' signs covering their meters.

Contrary to Mr Thomas' understanding, this was not a 'blatant disregard of the law': there is no legislation prohibiting the use of such signs. Indeed the signs are often used perfectly legitimately, for example, at the conclusion of a shift.

Taxi driver conduct is covered by Section 37 of the Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) Regulations (CAP 371) which creates the offence of 'wilfully refusing or neglecting to accept a hire without reasonable excuse'. The improper use of 'Out of Service' signs could in certain circumstances amount to an offence under this section.

A driver who stops on the indication of a prospective hirer and then refuses the hire for whatever reason, commits an offence (whether or not the meter is covered with an 'Out of Service' sign).

Mere 'driving around' presents obvious enforcement difficulties under the existing legislation. Prospective hires who see an 'Out of Service' sign covering the taxi's meter will obviously be unlikely to hail it.

If a prospective hirer makes no indication of an intention to hire, it is equally obvious that the driver cannot be guilty of refusing or neglecting to accept a hire. If, on the other hand, the driver sees a prospective hirer whose look, say for the sake of argument, he likes, he may simply remove the sign and wait for the hirer's indication. Again in these circumstances he commits no offence.

Notwithstanding the present enforcement difficulties, Mr Thomas' frustration is shared by many. The 40 or so complaints made to the Transport Complaints Unit (2577-6866) each month almost certainly represents a fraction of the real number of hire refusals. If Mr Thomas (or indeed anyone else) has any constructive proposals to make concerning this issue then he is welcome to contact the Chief Inspector responsible for Traffic Law Revision and Research, David Lorimer at 2860-2551.

H. M. BLUD for Commissioner of Police


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